Whites only in Edina

Next month The New Press will publish James W. Loewen's book Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. It's an eye-opening account of how hundreds of towns across the country systematically removed blacks and other minorities--often through violent means--during the first half of the 20th century.


What's particularly striking is that the overwhelming majority of these cleansed municipalities were not in the Jim Crow South, but rather spread across the northern half of the country. "While African Americans never lost the right to vote in the North (although there were gestures in that direction), they did lose the right to live in town after town, county after county," Loewen writes in the introduction.

One of the municipalities singled out for particular attention by Loewen is Edina, Minnesota. He points out that prior to the establishment of Edina just after World War I there were quite a few blacks living in what was then known as Richfield Township. This was largely owing to the fact that there was a Quaker village in the area that openly embraced minorities.

Loewen relies primarily on a history of the town written by Deborah Morse-Kahn. Here's the chief passage dealing with Edina:

Then, just after World War I, Samuel Thorpe developed "the elegant Edina Country Club residential district," as Morse-Kahn correctly describes it, "with restrictive deed covenants in place." Now Edina's African American community "would feel estranged. Thorpe Brothers' building restrictions guaranteed to any buyer, in an era when municipal zoning was nonexistent, that their property would be 'safe' from devaluating circumstances, stating that blacks were explicitly ineligible to buy in the district." According to Joyce Repya, associate planner for Edina, deeds carried various restrictions such as "No fuel storage tanks above ground," "No shedding poplars, box elders, or other objectionable trees," and most important, the racial exclusionary clause. ... And unlike all other restrictions, which phased out in 1964, the restriction to "the white or Caucasian race" continued in force forever. "By the late 1930s," in Morse-Kahn's words, "virtually all of Edina's black families had moved into Minneapolis and an historic era had ended for the village." At that point Morse-Kahn goes on, anti-Semitism, which had been virtually unheard-of in Edina before the First World War became a haunting hallmark of Edina life. As late as the end of the 1950s, potential buyers known to be Jewish were often openly turned away by realtors and requested to look for residential property elsewhere."


Loewen does note later in the book, however, that Edina no longer remains all white, as do many of the sundown towns that he chronicles. According to the 2000 census, there were 546 African Americans living in the wealthy suburb, out of a total population of 47,425.


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